For the year 2022, the Big Picture Natural World Photography Contest has released its list of winners. Karine Aigner took home the top honor for capturing a unique instance of a bee’s mating ritual.
The remaining images on the list of winners are all equally stunning and captivating, and they all strongly celebrate biodiversity. View the gallery below to see some of the most beautiful images from this year’s competition.
#1 Karine Aigner’s “Bee Balling.” Winner of the top prize
A female cactus bee (Diadasia rinconis) emerged from its tiny, cylindrical nest in the ground on a warm spring morning in South Texas, rising like ash from a chimney. She was immediately surrounded by dozens of patrolling men who were vying for her attention by constructing a buzzing, swirling “mating ball”out of their tawny bodies. The ball of bees eventually dispersed after about 20 turbulent seconds, and the female flew away with a solitary, victorious male clinging to her back.
Photographer Karine Aigner was fortunate to get a shot of this particular mating ball because aggregations only persist for a little more than a week. Even though they are hardly ever observed or recorded by humans, these native bees are important pollinators, particularly for prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus, which are a vital source of food for many species in the arid American Southwest.
#2 Sitaram May’s “Frame Within a Frame.” Life Winner with Wings
“ Photographer Sitaram May formerly believed that capturing wildlife was something he did while traveling. But once the COVID-19 virus spread throughout the world, he began to focus more on the local wildlife. On one particular evening, he recounts, “I was sitting on my balcony looking out at a custard apple tree, and bats were visiting frequently to devour the fruits.” “Bats were being cursed by everyone, but I chose to watch them,”May observed the fruit bats for three weeks before learning to predict their behavior and spot openings in the tree canopy where they were likely to enter. He was able to take this picture at one of these openings, neatly framing the bat within a ring of rich, green foliage.
#3 Fernando Constantino Martnez Belmar’s “Face to Face.” Nature/Human Finalist
In his home Yucatán Peninsula, Mexican photographer Fernando Constantino Martnez Belmar documents the struggle between nature and humanity. The “Maya Riviera,”one of Mexico’s busiest tourist destinations, and the secretive jaguar both call this region home. Belmar’s photographs demonstrate how the cats are making use of changes brought about by human development.
#4 Tom Shlesinger’s “Tunnel Vision.” Finalist for Aquatic Life
“Atlantic goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) congregate off the east coast of Florida every year from August to the beginning of October to spawn. Refrigerator-sized males make low-frequency booming sounds by contracting their swim bladders on dark, new-moon evenings, luring other groupers to gather around shipwrecks or rocky reefs. More than 100 fish might have responded to the call fifty years ago. However, by 1990, the slow-moving species had practically become extinct due to overfishing, and spawning aggregations were frequently reduced to a small number of fish. In the following year, goliath groupers were given federal and state-level protection against fishing, and the population started to slowly rebound. Although the number of groupers mating in Florida has not yet reached the levels that local fishermen remember from the 1970s, it is now typical to see 20 to 40 groupers together during the breeding season.
However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed in March to restore recreational fishing for goliath groupers starting in 2023, despite strong resistance from scientists who study the species. The current proposal calls for the sale of up to 200 adult grouper harvesting licenses, each of which will cost between $150 and $500.
#5 David Slater’s “After the Fall.” The Aquatic Life Award
Photographer David Slater enjoys diving with California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), which are recognizable components of the Monterey Bay ecology. They sweep by you with such grace and beauty that you are left speechless, he exclaims. But Slater saw a more solemn sea lion sight while diving in September. A dead sea lion has found its final resting place on a muddy section of the sea floor, with a beautiful array of bat stars (Patiria miniata) scattered across its body like flowers plaind on a cemetery.
Omnivorous bat stars frequently consume animal remains that wash up on the ocean floor.
#6 Jose Grando’s “The Stoat’s Game” is number six. Terrestrial Life Award Winner
In the French Alps, photographer Jose Grando photographed a stoat dancing and leaping in the snow. Scientists disagree on the reasons for the behavior, but it seems to add an element of surprise. These behaviors lessen the likelihood that the stoat may sustain harm when they are connected to an attack on a large prey species.
#7 Bence Máté’s “Spider Web.” Winner of a Terrestrial Life
In the Kiskunsag National Park in Hungary, it was daybreak, and photographer Bence Máté was lying still and scarcely breathing on a floating hide the size of a coffin. A Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) was busy munching on a tree in front of him as the early morning sun illuminated it. In the distance, recently cut trees with one of them covered in a brilliant spider web emerged from the mist-covered sea-like dock pilings. The ethereal image was more than simply lovely; it was a powerful example of how beavers alter their environments when they construct dams, so generating habitats that are used by several other species.
#8 Pl Hermansen’s “Into the Light.” Art of Nature Champion
“Photographer Pl Hermansen was shocked to see his house when he came outdoors one brisk March morning in Ski, Norway. He noticed the dark stains of numerous insects drawn to their deaths by the unintentional beacon inside the dazzling shell of one of the outdoor lights that had been left on all night. Hermansen was motivated to take pictures of the collection of insects while he cleaned out the fixture because he wanted to bring attention to "the hidden creatures who form a foundation for our lives—creatures that we often neglect”
#9 Bence Máté’s “Sickening Delicacy.” Human vs. Nature
Bence Máté, a photographer, saw poachers in Romania kill hundreds of toads and frogs. Millions of frogs are trafficked as food around the world each year. Even more of a threat to amphibian populations is commercial farming. To better safeguard amphibians worldwide, improved welfare and disease control strategies are urgently needed.
#10 Tom St. George’s “Hidden Beauty.” Winner: Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora
“Photographer Tom St George discovered this surreal, seemingly lifeless cavern deep within a cenote on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, its dimly light waters punctured by thousands of stunning stalactites. This flooded cave is not at all inhospitable, despite its unwelcoming appearance. It is a component of a vast underground network of caves, sinkholes, and flooded channels that is home to a surprising variety of fish and zooplankton, the majority of which are unique to the Yucatán. Since the cenotes on the peninsula are in danger from development and pollution, many are also in peril. Antromysis cenotensis, one of these species, is a tiny crab that has a huge impact on its habitat. The shrimp-like organism, which is listed as one of Mexico’s most endangered species, travels considerable distances vertically while feeding, dispersing nutrients throughout the water column. Additionally, cenote fish depend on it as a major source of food.